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Durham University

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Bolder approach to Higher Education admissions needed

(14 January 2021)

Universities should be bolder in how they use contextual data when making decisions about admitting prospective students, according to a new report by education experts at Durham.

Our researchers interviewed university admissions heads and selectors, as well as reviewing universities’ Access and Participation Plans which set out how Higher Education (HE) providers will improve equality of opportunity for underrepresented groups to access, succeed in and progress from universities.

They found that highly selective universities in England are increasingly taking into account the socioeconomic and educational contexts in which applicants’ achieved their grades when making admissions decisions.

But their report says that universities need to go further to create a level playing field by:

  • Reducing entry requirements for contextually disadvantaged applicants by more than just one or two grades;
  • Contextualising all admissions criteria including GCSE grades, personal statements and interview performances;
  • Ensuring that new commitments to supporting contextually disadvantaged students to achieve their potential at university are fulfilled.

The report also recommends several changes to England’s national education policy, including moving away from a pre-qualification admissions system, which previous research suggests tends to favour students from more privileged backgrounds.

Overall the report recommends switching from the traditional admissions model, where places go to the highest qualified candidates irrespective of social background, to a model where prospective students’ qualifications are judged in light of their socioeconomic circumstances.

Find out More

  • Researchers carried out in-depth interviews with admissions heads and selectors at 17 pre and post-1992 English universities conducted in 2017/18, and a review of 25 Access and Participation Plans belonging to universities with high academic entry requirements which look ahead to the period 2020/21 to 2024/25.

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